So you did it. You went out on an impulse and bought yourself a classic car. Well, I did at least. A couple grand and several injuries later I’m having a blast, fearing for my life and wondering if I can make it down the street when it’s 90 degrees out and there’s beach traffic.
I can’t, sadly. A fan is one more thing on the list of things to fix/upgrade on my ’74 Alfa Romeo Spider. It is a gorgeous little red Italian convertible, known for its beauty and pain it brings to the owner. But it runs, and is surprisingly reliable – really strange for an Italian car. The hosts of “Top Gear” say something along the lines of how you can’t really be a car enthusiast unless you’ve owned an Alfa. My Alfa is beautiful but finicky, and thanks to some personal improvements, it’s haphazardly “me” appropriate.
Rebuilding an old car is fun – rebuilding a uniquely old car is creative. I say this because when funding becomes an issue, the MacGyver in you kicks in. The search for things you can use with your trusty Swiss Army knife. A little duct tape, a coat hanger, some odds ‘n’ ends from the garages and broken kids toys can bring many things to life.
One of the springs on my distributor is from a build-your-own-circuit kit. The spring is not quite right, but I get a poor man’s version of VTEC. Basically, it gave the Alfa a mind of its own while running. For the most part, everything else in the engine bay is stock, apart from some coat hangers, nylon zip-ties and ample use for the hose clamps. Moving onto the interior, I wanted a classic wood look for the turn signal lever that I was missing, so it got an old fondue fork. Classy, as that real wood only British interiors and mid-’70s culinary fads can bring. It matches the wood steering wheel, and on another level goes with the classy 8-Ball shift knob.
Okay, so I need to wear gloves, a sweater and an aviator’s skull cap at night because I opted for sound instead of heat. I felt the MP3 Stereo was going to make it more enjoyable and a little numbness in the hands was worth it. A word to the wise: Wear pants instead of shorts at night, or your hands won’t be the only things numb.
A classic car makes a simple drive so much more. Simon and Garfunkel playing as I drive through Malibu Canyon, wind in my hair and – until recently – the smell of exhaust in the cabin. On a side note: The lightheadedness from the exhaust leak may have been the cause of the initial joy and euphoria, but even after fixing that it’s still a hoot.
A feeling worth the constant smell of gasoline, the cut-up fingers, banged-up knuckles, several shocks from my ignition coil and the loss of some arm hair, thanks to a convenient backfire from the engine. It makes you feel alive, as all of your senses get assaulted. Okay, the screeching of the tires and the backfires that echo through the canyon as I barrel down the road also makes me feel alive. Better than any video game I have played – granted, there are no extra lives. It helps that I have disc brakes. No anti-lock braking system, but my leg fidgets anyway, I also have a roll bar and 4-point seat belts. It is safety that really depends on the driver. It’s been said that I should rely on being jettisoned from the car for safety instead of having the seat belts keeping me tied down, but I would rather just not run into anything.
It is unique, and driving down the road you feel a certain camaraderie from fellow classic car enthusiasts, like you are all one large family enjoying life. The car is light, zippy, iffy and spiffy. And if you like living on the edge or love a good rush of adrenaline, wondering if it’s going to break at any moment, Alfa Romeos sure do work well. You are young – why not embark on a little adventure? You heal fast at this age, so why not enjoy the little moments in life?